Building Codes

Articles involving the work of NKAPC's building inspectors and department's staff. NO Image:

Building inspectors end fiscal year 2017 on a very busy note

Posted on July 27, 2017

Fiscal Year 2017 was very busy for those involved with construction in the county. Permits from PDS’ building department were up 12 percent over those issued during FY16. PDS issued roughly 3,900 building permits and logged over 5,500 inspections between July 2016 and June 2017.

“This was a very busy year for us… one of the busiest we’ve ever had,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “We have six inspectors trying to keep up with the workload while also paying special attention to the level of service we provide to our customers.”

PDS building codes staff worked hard during FY17 to keep permit turn-around time to a minimum and to get to each requested inspection within a 24-hour window of request. For the most part, they succeeded.

With an increased workload and the new vacant foreclosed properties registration, PDS filled an administrative staff position recently that had been vacant since the early days of the Great Recession. Staff is also reviewing all workflow procedures to expedite processes as best possible without losing any aspect of service they provide to their customers.

“Besides following all statutory requirements, providing a great level of service is one of our top priorities here at PDS,” according to Sims.

If construction activity continues, PDS may need to fill an inspector position that was also a casualty of the recession. Staff will monitor the activity levels over the next month or so and make an assessment later in the year.


Building permit totals for 2016 harken back to pre-recession time

Posted on February 02, 2017
Construction activity across most of Kenton County was on the rise in 2016. In fact, it was the busiest year in the last decade for PDS inspectors. A review of permit and inspection numbers tells the story.

A total of 2,959 permits were issued last year and 5,263 inspections were performed by PDS’ certified building inspectors. This number includes building permits issued for new structures, additions, renovations, HVAC upgrades, sprinklers, fire alarms, etc.

Prior to the recession, the largest number of permits issued by PDS in a single year was 2,105 with 6,017 inspections performed during 2007. Permit numbers hit their lowest point in 2010 when only 1,463 permits were issued and 3,978 inspections were performed.

“Staff has been very busy this year keeping up with the additional work while trying to maintain a relatively short turnaround time on permits,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official.

Permit numbers are projected to increase during 2017 according to several analysts. The National Association of Home Builders cited that builder confidence is on the rise. Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes jumped seven points to a level of 70 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. This is the highest reading since July 2005.

“We hope activity does pick up for 2017 and that the market continues to grow for the construction industry. We want to see new homes built and businesses grow here in Kenton County,” said Sims. “It will be challenge to find ways to keep up with the workload, but a worthy challenge to have.”

Management Board deliberates on results from building’s energy audit

Posted on October 07, 2016
Members of PDS’ Management Board will consider the recommendations of an energy audit of its building in the near future. The board’s Capital Management Committee is considering the contents of that audit, the cost of the recommended actions, and the payback that will be achieved through lowered utility bills.

“One of the nicest surprises to come out of the audit was the confirmation that our recent upgrades to the building have made a positive impact on its efficiency,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at PDS. “The feasibility of additional improvements is what the committee and board are reviewing now.”

PDS pursued installation of an insulated roof and insulated windows during the down years of the recent recession when construction activities were considerably less expensive. Costs were paid from reserve funds that had been set aside for building maintenance.

The noted audit recommends upgrades to the building’s lighting, from common fluorescent tubes to LED fixtures. It also recommends moving from the 56 individual electric HVAC units that heat and cool the building to a central heat pump system. The individual HVAC units are the same as are used in many hotel rooms.

Gordon suggests the PDS Management Board may make its decision on upgrades by the end of the calendar year.

State wrestles with provisions of, timing for new state building code

Posted on September 01, 2016
Building Codes in Kentucky have been mandated and updated since the early 1980’s. Whether they will be updated in 2017 is in the hands of two taskforces established by the Kentucky Board of Housing. Both groups are reviewing the 2015 code published by the International Code Council (ICC), the organization from which all 50 states obtain their model codes.

The International Code Council is a member-focused association dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, and resilient structures.

The two task forces—one for the Kentucky Building Code and another for the Kentucky Residential Code—have been reviewing the 2015 International Code to see what, if any, changes need to be made to the ICC model for the codes that will be enforced throughout Kentucky.

The taskforces are made up of those with specific interests in the industry such as code/fire officials, design professionals, and builders. Each group was tasked to review the document with their respective peers and then to meet to and discuss the significant changes. Whatever proposed changes survive that process are then forwarded on for consideration.

PDS’ Chief Building Official, Brian Sims, CBO, sits on one of these taskforces as a representative for the Code Administrators Association of Kentucky. “The 2015 International Code is a positive move forward as it helps the building industry keep up with changes in technology. It also helps to clarify items in the current code that were once vague and subject to interpretation,” says Sims.

National model codes are updated every three years based on comments and suggestions from the states, counties, and cities that use them. Once updated, the national models are then distributed to and considered by these jurisdictions who make changes to fit their needs.

The model’s purpose is to establish minimum/maximum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare through structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, adequate light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment.

The Kentucky working groups have been given a working timeframe and will need to have their findings formulated and presented to the Board of Housing prior to its November 2016 meeting. If approved, the updated Kentucky Building Code and Kentucky Residential Code would be made effective by mid-2017 to allow a grace period for those projects currently being designed.

One Stop Shop revenues grow with economy; fees won’t increase

Posted on June 07, 2016

When NKAPC/PDS established its One Stop Shop program in 2005, it expected to increase fees each July to keep pace with inflation. The amount of increase was to be dictated by the cost of living for the previous year. That is how the program’s financing has worked for most years since then.

“One Stop Shop was built on the premise of total cost recovery,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “By building the cost of living escalator into all our local government agreements, we let everyone know that there would be incremental annual increases in our fees.”

Gordon says the small annual increases were requested by area builders and developers because they can be absorbed better than huge increases every five or ten years.

Last year’s cost of living increase in the Cincinnati metro area was negligible. The expanding economy is bringing in additional workload and dollars so according to the agreements, fees in all participating One Stop Shop jurisdictions will stay the same as this year.

“Staff did a lot of homework back then to create fee schedules that would cover costs,” said Gordon, “but there were certainly no guarantees that revenue would match expenditures. The economy was obviously a huge unknown in this—and who would’ve ever predicted the Great Recession?”

Gordon says small increases have been implemented during a majority of the past ten years. He says that the agency’s goal of full cost recovery has been re-evaluated by officials and lowered to an 80 percent cost recovery rate.


Permit numbers so far leading toward a very busy construction season

Posted on June 07, 2016

Construction activity has significantly increased this year from last year according to a recent report from TRAKiT, PDS’ comprehensive development-tracking software. If these numbers remain steady, 2016 could end as the best construction season since the housing crash in 2007-08.

“Our permit numbers have grown from 1,097 to 1,298 permits for the same time period over last year”, says Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official.

These numbers include all permit activity including new structures, additions, renovation/alterations, HVAC, automatic fire suppression systems, manual fire alarm systems, etc. With this trend, inspections will be sure to increase. To date, inspection numbers are roughly 400 more this year than they were this time last year.

The chart below—from builderonline.comdemonstrates housing start and completion numbers.


PDS has seen new housing starts increase from 43 to 52 permits this year to date. New commercial permits have grown from two the previous year to eight this year to date.

“Hopefully, activity will increase and help drive the economy back in Northern Kentucky,” says Sims.

With the workload increasing steadily, PDS needed to hire an additional entry-level inspector to replace one of the positions laid off during 2010. That inspector started in the building department last fall in an effort to get him trained for this building season.

“Our new inspector has come along very well. He is now performing inspections on his own and is really helping out with our current workload,” says Sims.

This brings PDS’ total number of building inspectors to six. This staffing level is expected to hold for now even if permits rise slightly in the future.


National Guard provides excellent experience for building inspector

Posted on December 29, 2015

The recent observance of Veteran’s Day provides an appropriate opportunity to introduce PDS’ new building inspector. Gary Forsyth, II enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard in March of 2007 in an effort to serve his community and the commonwealth.

Upon entering the Guard, Gary chose the military occupational specialty (MOS) code for vertical construction, as he was interested in engineering. Gary is currently a Carpentry Masonry Sergeant (SGT) (E-5) with the 149th Vertical Construction Company (VCC) based in Cynthiana.

In 2010, leaving a five-day-old baby girl and new mom at home SGT. Forsyth arrived at training in Hohenfels, Germany. The training was to prepare him for combat deployment with an exercise in building replica cities for infantry units. The major challenge while training in Germany was converting imperial measurements to metric. The conversion did not always work well, so the company went out and bought metric tools to finish the job.

SGT. Forsyth was deployed in 2013 to Afghanistan during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM as a team leader of five soldiers, eventually placed as a squad leader of two teams for a total 12 soldiers. In June of that year, the soldiers of the 149th VCC were tasked with a very high priority construction mission at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

The engineers were tasked with constructing a two story tactical operation command center for the 2nd Brigade, 1stCavalry Division, known as the “Black Jack” Brigade that were due to arrive in Afghanistan during the summer. Some challenges of constructing buildings in Afghanistan were convoy trucks with supplies could be blown up and new materials would have to be sent. Also, local materials were sometimes used in construction, and the quality of the resources was questionable and tricky to incorporate into the build.

The VCC completed the critical Cavalry construction and exceeded expectations creating a conference table in the shape of the Cavalry patch and includes all the likeness of the very recognizable yellow shield that is established as the symbol of the United States Cavalry. Due to the company’s fine work and for going above and beyond the call of construction, to show their gratitude the “Black Jack” Brigade held a surprise ceremony to induct those Soldiers into the “Order of the Combat Spurs” to show their appreciation.

From that day forward, the 2/1 Cavalry Division recognized the Soldiers of the 149th by issuing the award that authorizes the troops that are given the prestigious honor to wear the Cavalry Stetson and Combat Spurs in noted situations as honorary members of the Cavalry.

SGT. Forsyth’s highest award is the Bronze Star for meritorious service during deployment. From the narrative Bronze Star submittal, “SGT. Forsyth demonstrated outstanding professional skill, knowledge, devotion to duty, and determination. He was instrumental in the success of 12 vertical construction missions, one being a theater priority $1.3 million Tactical Operations Center for the 2-1 Cavalry.”

When asked what SGT. Forsyth missed the most on deployment to Afghanistan he responded, “No question, it was my kids and family.”

“We’re really proud to have Gary on our team,” concluded Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “The experience he received and is still receiving in the Kentucky Army National Guard is extremely beneficial to his responsibilities with PDS. We continue to thank him for his service to our country.”



Strengthening economy, mild weather spur building permit workload

Posted on March 02, 2015
Most preseason forecasts for our winter weather seemed to include another polar vortex like what we endured last year. As of this week, however, we have had one very minor snow incident and this week’s measureable snowfall. Mild temperatures have been the norm in Kenton County. What does this mean to the construction industry? Full speed ahead.

PDS’ building department has seen an increase of 188 permits, 118 plan reviews, and 235 inspections during the three recent months of November through January from the same period the year before.  

“Typically in the winter, we have a month or two where we can play catch up on old files right before the spring busy season hits but that hasn’t occurred this year,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “Hopefully, that is a sign of good things to come.”

Even with the increase in workload and the enforcement of new codes that went into effect last year, PDS is maintaining its commitment to a short turnaround times on plans as well as quick inspections out in the field.

KCPC, staff see increase in applications for communications towers

Posted on March 02, 2015
There has been an increase in new cell tower applications in Kenton County. Following a five-year period during which no new cell towers were constructed, PDS staff has processed two applications within the past four months. Time will determine whether this trend continues.

Larry Perry, a nationally-recognized radio frequency engineer and consultant to PDS, states that this trend may continue as the economy improves, technology and data speeds increase, and wireless providers seek to fill the holes in their networks.

“Part of the reason the need for new towers is increasing is LTE (long-term evolution) technology that is so popular today,” says Perry. “LTE technology reduces signal coverage somewhat while increasing the speed of the data that is transmitted.”

In addition to new cell towers, PDS’ Building Codes Administration Department has also received numerous permit applications to upgrade equipment on existing cell towers and structures.

New cell towers are often the most contentious issues that a planning commission hears and decides. The two most common complaints and objections that the Kenton County Planning Commission (KCPC) hears at public hearings are the loss of property values and the aesthetics of towers.

These objections by themselves, however, are usually not sufficient for denying an application. To deny an application, the planning commission must have “substantial evidence” to deny an application. While property values and aesthetics are important concerns for residents and communities, often times little factual evidence is submitted to the planning commission as a basis for its decision.

Federal and State regulations regarding the placement of new cell towers severely limit the purview of the planning commission. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 preserves the ability of the planning commission regarding the placement, construction, and modification of wireless service facilities for personal wireless service, subject to some very important federal limitations.

  • The planning commission cannot have the effect of denying Service. The KCPC cannot develop policies that have the effect of denying an application once an applicant demonstrates a need to construct a tower in a location based on coverage or capacity needs and an inability to co-locate on existing towers.
  • The planning commission cannot discriminate. The KCPC cannot favor one competitor over another competitor or, for example, base a denial because a carrier already has service in an area so there is no need for another carrier to provide service.
  • The planning commission cannot consider environmental effects. The KCPC should not allow evidence of environmental effects at the public hearing.
Kentucky law (KRS 100) states that only the planning commission has the authority to review and approve the construction of new towers. The planning commission must hold a public hearing and make its decision within 60 days of an application being received. Because of the time limits and limitations placed on the planning commission, new cell towers are often very hotly debated within the community.

“[Another reason why more new towers may be built], the FCC has authorized a total of 13 carriers for transmission of mobile data (smart phones) and currently we have only five in our area,” says Perry. “The new carriers are going to need tower space for their equipment also, thus additional potential applications.”

With smart phone technology improving and being nearly a necessity in today’s society, Kenton County is likely to see more conflicts between new cell towers and residential areas of the county.

Building department recertified to pursue state-level building projects

Posted on November 06, 2014

PDS has once again demonstrated to Kentucky’s Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction (DHBC) that it maintains the certification and knowledge to handle larger projects within Kenton County. The agency was granted its renewal recently for the expanded jurisdiction program for all of Kenton County absent Erlanger that has its own program.

To gain expanded jurisdiction, local building departments must demonstrate that they have the manpower, certification, and knowledge to handle larger construction projects. These projects are those with an occupant load of at least 100 or more persons. Office buildings of 10,000 square feet, industrial buildings larger than 20,000 square feet, and residential buildings larger than 20,000 square feet or three stories are some examples of buildings that fall under this criterion.

“I’m proud to acknowledge once again that our building inspection team has earned Frankfort’s trust,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Our office personnel and field inspectors work hard to justify this trust. They also work closely with building contractors to help them achieve their goals within the parameters set by the state building code.”

PDS first acquired expanded jurisdiction from the state in 1998 and has renewed it every three years since through an audit process. The resulting contract gives DHBC control over how the program is run and the ability to terminate the program if the local department fails to live up to state standards.

DHBC personnel visit the local jurisdictions after the application process and verify in the field that all parameters of KRS 198B.060(5) are met. Once the Department is satisfied that the local jurisdiction is maintaining proper procedures and meeting state standards, it makes sure all local ordinances and agreements are in place lawfully and then signs the contract for the next three years.

With PDS performing these larger projects locally, dollars spent on permits are kept locally and not returned back to Frankfort for dispersion throughout the commonwealth. It also allows for projects to occur quicker. Typically, inspections are provided with 24 hours’ notice and plans are reviewed in seven to eight business days if not sooner where it can be up to a month or more for a plan review at DHBC.


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